Animal Welfare and Human-Animal Interactions

The OHAIRE lab has a dedication to maximizing animal welfare during human-animal interaction.

Learn more about the OHAIRE lab's current research on this topic.

Read the OHAIRE lab's published research on this topic.

What is Animal Welfare?

Animal welfare refers to how an animal is doing (mentally, physically, and in terms of natural behaviors) in its current environment. An animal has "good welfare" if it is healthy, comfortable, well fed, safe, able to express reasonably natural behaviors, and does not suffer from unpleasant feelings such as pain, fear, and distress (by scientific indicators) [1]. Natural behaviors are behaviors that animals generally express if they were in the wild, because the behaviors are pleasurable and promote healthy functioning. For example, horses form herds naturally in the wild and this desire to be with other horses is a natural behavior.

Animal welfare can range from poor to fair to good and can change from day to day, or even hour to hour. An animal can have good physical welfare, but poor mental welfare. To determine welfare we must look at the individual animal.

How does Animal Welfare relate to Animal-Assisted Intervention? Why should I care about Welfare?

Animal-assisted intervention by definition involves animals. Depending on how the animal is incorporated, AAI has the potential to either improve or diminish animal welfare [2].
AAI may improve animal welfare by:

  • Allowing domestic animals to interact more with humans (such as service animals)
  • Increasing variety and decreasing boredom
  • Providing personalized, positive, and predictable training or enrichment
  • For purpose-bred animals: Potentially good breeding and genetics
  • Special care

AAI may worsen/diminish animal welfare by:

  • Animal fatigue and burnout especially in animals that work longer hours or more frequently
  • A potentially unpredictable or uncontrollable environment
  • For programs not following best practices: possible aversive training, lack of care, or neglect
  • Not following principals listed below in "How can I improve my animal's welfare?"

How can I tell if my animal has good welfare?

To assess welfare you must look at an individual animal using species-specific information. Like people, animals have individual characteristics that affect them and the way they handle certain activities. For example, some dogs may enjoy visiting with strangers while other dogs may be fearful of new people.
For best practice, try to answer the following 3 questions for your animal [3]:

  • Is my animal physically healthy?
  • Does my animal feel well?
  • Can my animal express reasonably natural behaviors?

Ask your veterinarian to help you answer question 1. Your vet, online resources, and training experts may be able to help you answer questions 2 and 3. For example here is a link to an article on the Key Determinants of dog and cat welfare.

How can I improve my animal's Welfare?

Scientific research has developed several recommendations that can be used to improve animal welfare across species [4]. First and foremost, animal owners and individuals interacting with animals should have the necessary skills and knowledge to promote animal welfare.
The physical environment (walking & resting surfaces, temperature, and humidity) and management practices should:

  • Promote:
    • Good health
    • Comfortable & safe resting and movement
    • Natural behaviors
    • Positive social behaviors for social species & individuals
    • Access to appropriate food & water
    • Positive human-animal relationships
    • Breeding that uses genetic selection to improve health & welfare rather than for aesthetics
  • Minimize:
  • Potential for injuries
  • Diseases and parasites
  • Isolation of social species
  • Negative human-animal interactions
  • Unnecessary stress
  • Burnout and fatigue

Written by Megan R. LaFollette and the OHAIRE Group


  1. OIE (World Organization for Animal Health). Chapter 7.1. Introduction to the recommendations for animal welfare. Terrestrial Animal Health Code 2010.
  2. Iannuzzi, D., & Rowan, A. N. (1991). Ethical issues in animal-assisted therapy programs. Anthrozooes 4 (3), 154-163.
  3. Fraser, D., Weary, D. M., Pajor, E. A., & Milligan, B. N. (1997). A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal welfare,6, 187-205.
  4. Fraser, D., Duncan, I. J., Edwards, S. A., Grandin, T., Gregory, N. G., Guyonnet, V., ... & Mench, J. A. (2013). General principles for the welfare of animals in production systems: the underlying science and its application.The Veterinary Journal, 198(1), 19-27.

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